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Bode Miller off U.S. ski roster, but has invitation to race

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Bode Miller‘s name no longer appears on the roster of the U.S. ski team. That doesn’t mean he’s retiring or won’t ever race again or that his chances of making a sixth Olympic squad have ended.

The situation is just hazy.

“I’m not going to say [Miller won’t be at the Olympics], because it’s Bode Miller,” U.S. men’s coach Sasha Rearick said by telephone. “Who knows? But my expectations of that aren’t high.”

The team announced its nominations Thursday for the 2017-18 World Cup season. The familiar names are all there — Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety — with the official roster set to be released closer to November when the season starts.

But Miller is now listed as “alumni,” with his chances of making the Pyeongchang Olympics in February very much uncertain. He turns 40 in October and hasn’t competitively raced since severing his right hamstring tendon during a super-G crash at the world championships in February 2015 (video here).

To have a shot at making the U.S. Olympic squad, Miller will have to demonstrate his speed at World Cup races. There are no automatic spots.

“We’ve proposed to Bode several options for training and racing through the last year and especially this summer … in terms of trying to get him going again. The moving parts never lined up in the right way,” Rearick explained. “Bode and I have had a tremendous run over the years and when we commit to something together, we’ve been able to have a lot of fun working hard and trying to make the impossible happen.

“Right now, with where he’s at with his family, where he’s at with his equipment, where he’s at with other aspects of his life, we both didn’t have that same commitment to making a big run at this together.”

The door is always open, though. Should Miller want to step into a World Cup starting gate again, Rearick said he would give Miller that chance “without hesitation.”

“Bode Miller’s career has definitely earned him that opportunity,” Rearick said.

His resume includes 33 World Cup win, two overall titles, four world championships and six Olympic medals, including gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games in the super-combined.

These days, Miller certainly has a full plate. He’s big into horse racing, with Fast and Accurate — a horse he bought a stake in — finishing 17th at the Kentucky Derby. He has four kids, two with professional beach volleyball player Morgan Miller, and other business endeavors.

One thing behind him is a public spat with ski manufacturer Head. Miller ended his nearly 10-year partnership with Head in 2015 and signed an agreement to not use other skis in World Cup or world championship races for two years. He was attempting to get out of the remainder of the deal so he could race on skis by New York-based Bomber, which he helped develop.

At a fundraiser in Aspen, Colo., two months ago, he told the crowd his chances of a return this season were around “60-40.” But he quickly cautioned he would have to be the “most-fit guy on the hill. If I could do it and make it through the prep period, that’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

Seeing Miller return to racing wouldn’t surprise Rearick. Seeing him step away wouldn’t, either.

After all, this is Miller.

“Bode’s self-expression on the hill inspired millions and millions to love him and love U.S. skiing and love ski racing,” Rearick said. “I hope we can all remember those great moments.”

NOTES: Ligety (back) and Steven Nyman (knee) are quickly mending from surgery this year. Ligety should be full speed ahead by August and Nyman closer to October. … Rearick is looking forward to working again with John “Johno” McBride, who rejoins the U.S. squad as the men’s speed team head coach. Alex Hoedlmoser, who had the role, switches to the women’s side and will support Chris Knight in working with Vonn. Chip White also returns as the head women’s speed coach.

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MORE: U.S. skier grapples with fear, doubt after latest, most difficult injury

Top U.S. skier grapples with fear, doubt after latest, most difficult injury

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U.S. Olympic Alpine skier Laurenne Ross is reminded every time she looks into a mirror. Of that crash 19 years ago.

“My cheek was basically torn off of my face, and I had a serious concussion,” Ross said. “I had over 100 stitches in my cheek.

“To see these scars as a positive part of who I am has taken my whole life, and I’m still working on it.”

Ross was introduced to skiing at 18 months old by her father, a former Canadian ski racer.

Since 2006, the Oregonian has shattered her pelvis and dislocated her shoulder ten times. She blew out her left ACL in 2008. She has broken a lot of bones in her hands and wrists. A labral tear in her hip. Concussions. A few bulging discs. Two severe ankle sprains. Add multiple severe facial lacerations, accumulating more than 200 stitches in her face.

Then came March 27. Another crash at the U.S. Championships in Sugarloaf, Maine. She blew out her right knee.

“This specific injury,” said Ross, on crutches four weeks later and overcome with emotion, “is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through.”

The 28-year-old Ross is the second-best speed racer on the U.S. team behind Lindsey Vonn.

Her last two seasons have been the best of her eight-year World Cup career.

Nine top-10 finishes in 2015-16. Another seven this past season. She was fifth in the world championships downhill and fourth in the downhill at the Olympic test event in South Korea.

Ross made her first Olympic team in Sochi, where she was 11th in the downhill. She was shaping up for medal contention in PyeongChang until that March 27 crash. A podium is still possible next February, but it will take an incredible climb.

Ross wrote that not being able to ski again is “a real possibility” in a passionate blog post titled “My First Steps,” published six weeks after the crash.

“With this injury (as with many) has come so many questions, concerns, doubts, considerations,” she wrote. “What if I can’t get strong enough to return to the level of skiing I was maintaining before my crash? What if I get back on skis and am stricken with doubt, crippled by fear? What if…what if I can’t even ski again? Though it’s unlikely, it is a real possibility. And then…what? Although I have deliberated on this before, never have I done so so thoroughly.”

Ross has the whole offseason to think deeply. The 2017-18 season’s first speed races will likely be in late November or early December.

“I want to be the one who decides when I’m done ski racing,” Ross wrote. “I don’t want my body to hold me back, or the [U.S.] Ski Team to make that decision for me. I want to leave on my own terms. And I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet….But what if I don’t have a choice? What if I’m forced to move on by the powers that be? How do I come to terms with that?”

Ross has interests outside of skiing. She journals daily, knits and can play the piano, guitar, violin and cello. She takes classes at the University of Oregon after each season, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She jokes her hope is to graduate within the next 10 years.

“I feel like I am my truest self when I’m on my skis,” Ross said last month, adding later on her blog, “This break from skiing is only going to make me miss it more, make me hungry, and make me fierce. But if it doesn’t work out, there is another endeavor waiting for me — waiting for all of us — when this one comes to an end.”

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MORE: Mikaela Shiffrin’s best season also brought the most anxiety

U.S. Alpine director set to lobby ski officials to let Lindsey Vonn race men

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An item high on Lindsey Vonn‘s priority list — competing against the men.

She’s lobbying hard for such a chance, but so far the International Ski Federation (FIS) has yet to sign off.

U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said he will push for rules alterations at the FIS meetings in May to possibly give Vonn and other female skiers that opportunity down the road.

“All the men say, ‘We don’t think she’s going to beat us,’ which is what they’re going to say, and also that, ‘It will be great for our sport,”‘ Vonn said. “So, what’s the harm?

“Hopefully, we’re able to accomplish it before I retire.”

The U.S. Ski Team’s proposal would bid for Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post in January.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said then, according to the newspaper. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

Vonn’s idea has been to race in Lake Louise, Canada, an annual late fall stop on both the men’s and women’s World Cup schedules. The men generally race in Lake Louise one week before the women do.

Vonn’s greatest success has come at Lake Louise, with 18 victories in 41 downhill and super-G starts dating to 2001.

Vonn previously requested in 2012 to be able to race against men in Lake Louise, but that was denied by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The federation said then “that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.”

“You can set up a day where a female racer can compete against men racers, just as a show, but it has nothing to do with competition,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said, according to the Denver Post in January. “I don’t see that it’s going to change in the next years — no driving forces to urge a change like that. This is something the teams could do also in training. But why would you want to have a competition in this direction?

“I just don’t see the interest. For me it’s a meaningless comparison. It doesn’t matter if she’s one second behind or a half-second ahead. We compete female against female and men against men. To me it doesn’t matter if one gender is faster or slower. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, just because it’s of interest to one racer. I haven’t heard of any other sport being dragged into this kind of position.”

Vonn must focus on the Olympic season before thinking about preparing to race men.

Always the consummate planner, she has every detail scribbled in a calendar from now until her season starts in November. Workouts, upcoming trips, ski camps, appointments – all of the ordinary stuff.

The bigger-ticket items? Now those are simply memorized. In the twilight of her career, the four-time overall World Cup champion has a priority list of aspirations before even thinking of stepping away:

– Break Ingemar Stenmark‘s wins record (once thought untouchable).

– “Defend” her downhill crown at the Winter Olympics in South Korea (she didn’t get that chance in Sochi because of a knee injury).

– Compete against the men.

“I’m not going to stop until I reach my goals,” Vonn said. “There’s too much I have left to accomplish.”

At the moment, her plan is to race at least through the 2018-19 season — health willing, of course.

But right now, the 32-year-old Vonn feels, knock on wood, quite healthy. She hasn’t been able to say that very often.

A quick glance at her medical chart: Bruised hip in training crash before Olympics (2006), sliced right thumb on champagne bottle while celebrating a victory (2009), severely bruised shin (2010), serious knee injuries (2013-14), broken left ankle (2015) and fractures near her left knee joint in a crash (2016).

Most recently, she broke her right arm in a November training run. It required surgery and led to nerve damage so severe she could hardly wiggle her fingers at first and had to tape the ski pole to her glove in order to race. She’s still trying to recover full sensation.

“All the obstacles I’ve faced, it makes me appreciate things that much more,” Vonn said in a recent interview as she hosted a camp in Denver designed to empower girls to reach their goals. “But I can’t worry about injuries. If you worry about it, you’re always going to ski scared.”

That’s never been an issue with Vonn.

“There are a lot of athletes who achieve amazing results and when they get hurt, especially multiple times, they ask themselves, ‘Is it worth it?”‘ Riml said. “Her hunger to become a better athlete and win more races is as big as it was when she was 20 years old.

“Her determination, her drive to become better, to win more races, it’s unbelievable.”

Vonn has a number in mind – 86. That’s how many World Cup wins Stenmark accumulated during the Swedish great’s extraordinary career. Vonn is currently at 77.

“If I ended my career today, I’d still be really satisfied with what I’ve done,” said Vonn , who broke Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s record of 62 World Cup wins in January 2015. “But I think to beat a record like his [Stenmark], it would be very significant.”

These days, everything is geared toward the Winter Olympics in South Korea. After capturing downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, she missed the Sochi Games because of a knee injury.

“My main goal is to defend or repeat – I don’t know what you call it,” she joked.

Vonn raced on the Olympic course in early March, finishing second in both the downhill and super-G. In Pyeongchang next February, she said she will compete in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the combined, but skip the slalom.

According to her crammed calendar, this recent block of time was reserved for rest. She and her boyfriend, Kenan Smith, a former assistant wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams, recently escaped to the beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands .

Soon on her to-do list, test out new Head skis and boots in Europe. Vonn’s been hurt so much that she really hasn’t had a chance to try out the latest equipment.

“I need to get up to date,” Vonn said. “I know that if I can fine-tune some of the details, I can find some more time in my racing.”

That will certainly come in handy against a crop of talented skiers that includes freshly minted World Cup overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up holding Vonn in high esteem, the same way Vonn did with 1998 super-G Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street.

“There’s clearly no one out there in the technical disciplines, especially the slalom, that’s on Mikaela’s level,” said Vonn, who lives in Vail, Colorado. “She’s had an incredible career so far.”

One day Shiffrin could be chasing Vonn’s marks. At 22, Shiffrin already has 31 World Cup wins. For a comparison, Vonn had four at the same age.

“It would be great if Mikaela’s able to break it,” said Vonn, whose foundation partnered with “ZGirls” to host confidence-building programs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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